I have very little experience in covering stories that don’t emerge out of courtrooms with bright, eloquent and educated minds discussing an issue of significance. It is possibly because of this that seven days of covering the Rewari gang rape were nothing less than a reality check for me.
An FIR was registered by a 19-year old girl from a small village called Nayagaon in Rewari in the wee hours of the morning on September 13. By the morning of September 14, the case had started to gather eyeballs across the country and by the afternoon on the same day, I was ready to set off for Rewari.
What I knew about the case so far was that a 19-year old girl was kidnapped from a bus stand at around 9:00 am on September 12 while she was on her way for her coaching classes. She was dropped off at the same bus stand roughly nine hours later after being drugged and gang-raped by multiple men in a small, secluded tube well in the middle of the Rewari corn fields. At this point it seemed to me that the story was about a heinous crime that was committed and would be over in two days as soon as the men were nabbed. She had identified the three main accused already, right? They were from the same, small village.
I assumed the police would be knocking at their doors before nightfall. Unfortunately, that didn't happen because the story was not just about a heinous crime. The story was about the complete breakdown of law and order in a state ruled by Mr. Manohar Lal Khattar.
Around 10:00 pm on September 12, after being gang-raped for hours, the girl along with her family and multiple villagers reached the Superintendent of Police to register an FIR. Three men who were involved in kidnappings and drugging her were known to her. Once she was drugged at the tube well, she slipped in and out of consciousness but said that she was aware when more men came into the room. How many more? She guessed around 12.
Superintendent of Police was not available to meet her for reasons unknown. His staff informed the family that the SP was “not there” and that they should go “try” at the Women’s Police Station. This SP has now been transferred out of Rewari.
The family then rushed to the Women’s Police Station where they were made to wait, humiliated and ignored. At around 1:00 am, an FIR was finally registered. Not one police officials were sent to investigate the crime scene. Not one trace of evidence was recovered from the victim.
After filing the FIR, the family rushed to the Rewari government hospital to get their daughter admitted and ensure they have all the medical tests in place. The first 24 hours after a rape are extremely crucial to collect medical evidence from the survivor’s body - something the family was aware of. Till 3:00 am the girl was still not admitted and the family had to call someone from the village who could ask the Sarpanch to make a call to the hospital to say that their daughter needed medical assistance.
Soon after the call was made, a doctor finally saw the girl, gave her some basic first aid and told her she was fit to go home. The Medical Superintendent of the Hospital later told me, “the girl had come to the hospital walking on her own two feet. We didn’t think it was that big a deal.” Reports suggest that this doctor has now been transferred and the Medical Superintendent has been suspended.
The family was forced to bring the girl back home in the early hours on September 13. Neither the crime scene nor the village had seen any traces of a police officer yet. The alleged rapists remained in the village for most of the day on September 13, until the local media had started working on the case. Late in the evening on September 13, the three identified accused finally fled. Not due to fear of the police, rather due to the fear of the local journalists who had reached the village to speak to the survivor’s family.
The family had to take the girl back to the hospital the next day when she began complaining of severe abdominal pains. She was then finally admitted to the hospital. It’s been eight days since she was told that she was “fit to go home” and she has still not been discharged and continues to remain under “close observation”.
Conspiracy theories are aplenty, especially in cases like these within villages or small towns where everybody knows everybody. But irrespective of what anybody on the ground said about the incident, all villagers spoke in one voice when they said that these men were a menace. Some said that they were leeches and habitual sex offenders who should be hanged to death.
Three days after the girl was gang-raped, a Special Investigation Team headed by SP Nazneen Bhasin was formed. The SIT visited the spot after lunch on September 15 - this was the first time the crime scene was being investigated by a police official. The cameras had found the crime scene before the police could do so.
Immediately after investigating the crime scene, the ADGP of Rewari, South Range, Shrikant Jadhav under whose supervision the SIT was formed held a small media briefing at the scene of crime itself. He said they had managed to collect substantial evidence from the spot and were hopeful of positive results very soon. Shortly after, Nazneen Bhasin told the press that the investigation was underway with full force, she was reachable “at all times” and that she would keep everyone constantly updated about the “progress”. She has been close to impossible to reach on the phone since that brief interaction. The PRO of the Haryana Police constantly maintains that the matter is now with the SIT and he is “not aware” of any progress.
In the morning on September 17, the media had reached the civil rest house in Nahar (close to the survivor’s village) where the SIT had set up it’s headquarters. Two people had been taken into custody by the SIT so far - the owner of the tube well and a local doctor who had been called in by the accused to check on the girl when her health started deteriorating at the tube well. Though significant leads, none of these men were the main accused in the case.
At around 8:00 pm on September 17, after keeping the media waiting outside the headquarters for over 8 hours, the SIT announced that they had some “very positive news”. Reporters immediately started buzzing. Had the men been caught? Calls were made, sources were reached out to. 10 minutes before the SIT head was to conduct the press conference, a top-level officer in the police confirmed that one of the three main accused - Nishu Phogat had been nabbed and was on his way to the SIT headquarters right now.
Shortly after, Nazneen Bhasin began the press conference with the words “we are very proud to announce” and went on to talk about the nabbing of the main accused (“he has still not been officially arrested” she said; “he’s on his way here”). Nishu was the mastermind, the SIT proclaimed. He had planned the entire thing. It was a “big breakthrough” for them. They had “cracked the case”. The entire SIT team had a photo session after the press conference. When Nishu reached, they had a second photo session with him in the center.
The next day I tracked down Nishu’s father. His son was accused of being the “mastermind” of a gang rape. Surely his father would have something to say. And he did. He told me that he had been called in by the SIT the day they had taken over the case. They told him they had a few questions for him, he went to the SIT headquarters where he was locked up. He was already worried for his son by the time the SIT had come into the picture. He had informed all his relatives and the people he knew across Haryana that Nishu was on the run and might approach them for shelter.
Nishu’s father was told by the police that he will not be released until Nishu was caught. He was allowed to keep his phone with him so that he could get in touch with his relatives who were on a constant lookout. Finally, when one of the relatives was approached by Nishu, his father was informed who in turn duly informed the police about the exact location where Nishu could be found. The police then “nabbed” him and patted their backs for it.
As the media had begun its own investigation by this point, several villagers told me off the record that they were being “advised” by the police to not speak to the media. This came to light after men were being picked up at random from the village supposedly on the basis of call records of the accused by the SIT. Some of these men were kept in police custody for over for days under the garb of investigation and on the basis of no evidence. Their families would come, stand outside the SIT headquarters every day telling the police that their sons had done no wrong. One of the men picked up was on official army duty on the day of the incident. He had come to the village on leave three days after the FIR was filed.
The BJP MLA from Rewari, Randhir Singh Kapriwas told me that “even though there was definitely a delay by the police”, the SIT under the leadership of Nazneen Bhasin was doing “a commendable job”. He then went on to talk about the cases he knew where girls used reasons like these to “blackmail young men”. He talked about past cases where women in the area had spoken up about rape. “One of them claimed she had been raped in July. Where was she all this while?” he said. “Another said she was picked up from the middle of a bazaar. How come nobody saw her? She must have gone willingly only.” Neither he nor the Chief Minister ML Khattar has visited the village or the survivor’s family yet.
Since Nishu’s arrest, there has been little development in the story. It has been eight days since the accused were identified by the survivor yet no “positive results” that the ADGP had promised have seen the light of the day. Nazneen Bhasin continues to avoid phone calls from reporters. Two of the three men named in the FIR are still on the run. An unconfirmed number of men remain unidentified. The “fast-tracked” forensic reports are still awaited. The 19-year old continues to fight her trauma in the Rewari government hospital and the law and order situation in Haryana continues to remain unchanged.